[More rants from Jeff Mirus to get, as he says, more howls from critics]
Facing the People: Cardinal Burke’s Opinion
By Dr. Jeff Mirus | July 11, 2012
I found Cardinal Raymond Burke’s lament over resistance to Summorum Pontificum [http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=14855] interesting, but for a reason you might not expect. Cardinal Burke definitely decried the lack of cooperation by bishops in some dioceses with the Pope’s desire that the extraordinary form of the Roman rite be more easily celebrated. But he also made a fascinating comment on the ordinary form.
He said that the ordinary form, in which the priest typically faces the people, can encourage a deeper appreciation of the “transparent devotion” with which priests should celebrate either form.
This is interesting because it is a point seldom noted by those who yearn for greater access to the extraordinary form. More often their arguments run the other way. The older “ad orientem” (the priest facing away from the congregation and toward the East) typically trumps the newer “versus populum” (the priest facing towards the congregation). For example, Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became pope, speculated that reverting to the “ad orientem” practice might instill a greater sense of sacrality in the ordinary form of the liturgy, providing an emphasis on the priest offering sacrifice to God on behalf of the people.
And of course it might have this effect. But Cardinal Burke sees an alternative value. Perhaps remembering the sloppy manner and even breakneck speed in which the Mass was frequently said in Latin (but certainly no stranger to the sometimes unfortunate emphasis on the personality of the celebrant in the ordinary form), Cardinal Burke suggests that facing the people can (and certainly ought to) be a way to more effectively communicate the reverence with which a priest says Mass.
I can, of course, hear the howls of protest from here, as people line up on various sides of this issue. But it seems to me that what this shows is that liturgical preferences are not necessarily tied to questions of stronger or weaker faith. It is difficult to predict who, in his heart of hearts, will really prefer one thing to another. Personal preferences vary widely, even among those equally committed to fidelity as Catholics.
Of course, Cardinal Burke also says he’d like to see the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar and the Last Gospel brought back, whereas I regard them as external to the Mass proper, historical accretions that were wisely deleted in the reform. More howls from some quarters, I know, but I treasure the ordinary form’s clarity about the parts of the Mass, its restrained emphasis on essentials—a feature of that noble simplicity which has always been more characteristic of the Latin rite than of the various Eastern rites.
The point is that we all have our preferences, and there are legitimate arguments on all sides of these questions. In this context, it is a wonderful thing to work peacefully for the improvement of the Sacred Liturgy—and an even more wonderful thing to follow serenely whatever rubrics are currently in force. As Our Lord saved us through obedience to the Father, so should we always worship in obedience to the Church.
We must never confuse spirituality with consolations: The spirituality of obedience to the Church, which infallibly unites us to Christ, should always supercede whatever emotional consolation we may gain by having things done our way.